Guest Blog Post by James Nankivell – Investigating the Diversity of Sea Snakes in Western Australia

Guest blog post by Honors Student – James Nankivell

As part of my honours project investigating the diversity of sea snakes in Western Australia, I was lucky enough to spend a week in WA conducting fieldwork as part of team from the University of Adelaide. I am specifically looking at species boundaries of widespread sea snakes using a combination of molecular and morphological techniques.

The first stop was a flying visit to the Western Australian Museum where I measured and photographed specimens and of course there wasn’t enough time to see everything I wanted!

After that we flew to Broome, where the warm tropical weather was a welcome escape from Adelaide’s chilly winter. We spent two nights on a fishing charter boat spotlighting and catching snakes that use the cover of darkness to rest on the surface.

These two nights were an overwhelming success, where we caught over 30 snakes (20 of them in the space of little more than an hour). We even made some rare behavioural observations of a pair mating. A few of these snakes were retained to take further measurements and sampling, including the pair of Olive-headed Sea Snakes that continued mating in the bathtub!

We also took a number of trips out into the nearby mangroves in search of semi-aquatic sea snakes, but unfortunately struck out, with a lone sea turtle being the highlight.

After the success of Broome, we travelled to Carnarvon to give a workshop on safely handling and identifying sea snakes to the local prawn trawling fishery, who regularly encounter them in the by-catch. The industry collaboration will not only help improve crew member safety but also provide better outcomes for snakes caught in trawls and increase our understanding of sea snake distribution and ecology.

Overall the trip was an absolute blast and we managed to collect valuable data for a variety of projects investigating sea snake sensory evolution and conservation. The trip wouldn’t have been such a success without an awesome group from the University of Adelaide (Dr. Bruno Simoes, Charlotte Nitschke, Ludo Pieterman and Matthew Ford) as well as Mick from Absolute Ocean Charters and Felicity and Geoff from the Shark Bay prawn trawling industry. A massive thanks to my supervisor Dr. Kate Sanders as well!


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